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When the Second World War broke out, Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, age twenty-five, fought for his country enthusiastically as a cavalry officer. His rearing on the family estate in the Rhineland had instilled in him a strong Catholic faith, a reverence for the fatherland, and a love of horsemanship and the hunt. And so, like his brother Georg, he accepted a commission when the call came to restore the pride Germany had lost in the humiliating peace of Versailles.
Soon, however, beyond the regimented and honor-bound world of the cavalry, von Boeselager would discover what shocking brutality the SS was perpetrating at the behest of the Third Reich’s highest authorities. When, in the summer of 1942, he heard that five Roma had been killed in cold blood, von Boeselager’s patriotism quickly turned to disgust. Under his commanding officer, Field Marshal von Kluge, Philipp and his brother joined a group of conspirators in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler.
It was planned that Philipp would shoot both the Führer and Himmler in the officers’ casino during a camp inspection visit, but when that attempt had to be aborted at the last moment, the plotters resolved to use a bomb to assassinate Hitler alone. Once von Boeselager had delivered the explosives to Claus von Stauffenberg, a leader of the plot, he and Georg led an unauthorized retreat of cavalry units from the eastern front, a surreal night maneuver indelibly described here. The mission: to take control of Berlin and effect the coup d’etat.
When the bomb failed to kill Hitler, the SS launched a terrifying purge of senior army officers. The von Boeselager brothers barely managed to return with their units to the eastern front in time to escape detection. One by one their fellow plotters were found out, tortured, and executed, but steadfast in their cause, they never gave up the von Boeselagers’ names. Georg would eventually fall in battle on the Russian front, but Philipp survived the war.
In this elegant but unflinching testimony, Philipp von Boeselager, until his death in 2008 the last surviving member of the plot code-named Valkyrie, gives voice to the spirit of the small but determined band of men whose sense of justice and honor could not be dissolved by the diabolical glamour of the Third Reich. Here is an invaluable new perspective on one of the most fascinating near misses of twentieth-century history.
“short, modest memoir….celebrates a long-since-vanished generation of scholar-warriors….von Boeselager, a cavalry officer both intelligent and honourable.” —Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail
“brisk, illuminating description of how one German solider struggled to reconcile his profound religious and moral sensibility with his cavalryman’s patriotic code of honour and thereby became part of this conspiracy.” —Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
“remarkable book….von Boeselager’s story is far removed from the new and sanitised Hollywood take on the July 20 plot….many insights [and] details abound….[it is] of real significance to Second World War historians….[an] astonishing memoir.” —Henry Winter, Telegraph
“An extraordinary memoir….A one-of-a-kind eyewitness account, essential for students of the Third Reich and all champions of freedom against tyranny.” —Booklist (starred review)
“[A]n important and troubling new memoir….offer[s] a vivid account of von Boeselager’s part in the plot.” —Adam Kirsch, Nextbook
“In von Boeselager’s concise account, every sentence contributes to one of two goals: either to educate readers about one of the most important resistance movements of our time or to deepen the understanding of the human lives at the heart of the story…[with] precise language, concrete memory, and impressive metacognitive skill, von Boeselager adds an invaluable element of personal perspective. The great achievement of Valkyrie is to render a portrait of moral justice within the ranks of the 1940s German Army…. Valkyrie defends the honor of the German military men…. [I]t explores reality — the importance of making accessible to future generations the full truth of history.” - Dan Fritz, The Christian Science Monitor
“An extraordinary memoir….A one-of-a-kind eyewitness account, essential for students of the Third Reich and all champions of freedom against tyranny.” - Booklist (starred review)
“[E]xtraordinary narrative….What separates Grigoris Balakian’s account from the others is his great and well-disciplined intelligence….This beautifully translated memoir of those massacres, eventually to be called a genocide, brings some restraint to American-Armenian studies…. Peter Balakian has brought back sobriety to this study, without diminishing its horrors. This book will influence Armenian genocide studies for decades.” - Times Literary Supplement
“At the heart of this expansive, multi-layered volume is [Peter Balakian’s] personal discovery of the truth about what the Turkish government did to 1 million Armenians in 1915….This memoir, which covers the years 1915 to 1918, is witness literature of the highest order, to be put beside the great testimony from the Shoah. Despite the horrors it describes, Armenian Golgotha…becomes, by its appearance alone, required reading for those who wish to comprehend the 20th century and the modern world we inhabit…. Grigoris [Balakian] was the first survivor to provide the world with a ‘depth of understanding’ about what happened to his fellow Armenians as they were driven from their homes and slaughtered en masse…. Those who consider themselves informed individuals — and those who especially consider themselves well-versed in the dangers that still face the world — will ignore Armenian Golgotha at their peril.” - Robert Leiter, The Jewish Exponent